A North Korean Christmas

The world in the West awakened on Monday to the news that while we slept the 69 year old recluse and quixotic leader of North Korea had succumbed to a heart attack. Kim Jong II was dead. The North Korean press dutifully reported that the “dear leader” died of “overwork” and “great mental and physical pain” accumulated from “dedicating his life to the people.” And I could not help but wonder how it will be with the North Korean people Kim Jong II left behind. Their publicized expressions of grief and dismay over their “great leader’s” demise notwithstanding,  how shall they survive? The notorious lack of food production in that hermit (and hermetically sealed) nation reportedly has produced a half-starved citizenry, eking out an impoverished existence. The nation’s ruling philosophy—that there is no God—has meant that there is no divine Responder to the human plight, no Creator to whom the struggling might appeal. And, God forbid, no Christmas story to offer even a glimmer of hope for a downtrodden people. So what Christmas shall the North Koreans enjoy? Oh, you say, if only we could tell them the truth about the first Christmas long, long ago—if only they could taste the elixir of hope embedded in that manger box of feed—if only they might come to know the Christ Child grown up and crucified and buried and risen—then surely, like their dominantly Christian cousins to the south, they too could be resurrected into western prosperity and Christian faith (perhaps not in that order). And yet I look at the American experiment in “believing” the now ancient Christmas story. Where has it gotten us? Last month the Associated Press reported: “The ranks of America’s poorest poor have climbed to a record high—1 in 15 people—spread widely across metropolitan areas as the housing bust pushed many inner-city poor into suburbs and other outlying places and shriveled jobs and income. New census data paint a stark portrait of the nation’s haves and have-nots at a time when unemployment remains persistently high. It comes a week before the government releases first-ever economic data that will show more Hispanics, elderly and working-age poor have fallen into poverty. In all, the numbers underscore the breadth and scope by which the downturn has reached further into mainstream America” (SBTribune 11-3-11). It is a baleful harvest when you embrace only one of the two Advents Scripture has promised. For what good is all the singing about once-upon-a-time, when the here-and-now is left woefully unaffected, pitifully unchanged? The Apostle Paul correctly protested: “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:9). Unless we radically embrace both the First and Second Advents, all the societal commotion over the First Advent is meaningless, hopeless—is it not? Are those Americans, who are as unmindful of the Advent yet to come as the North Koreans, any better off in terms of eternity? This Christmas what if we who call ourselves “Advent-ists” (we who are passionate about both Comings of Jesus) pushed our passion to action? What if we discovered a “North Korean” closer to home—someone, some family eking out an impoverished existence in this land of plenty? Not to assuage our guilt, but rather to manifest our hope, by helping another not of our tribe. What if we celebrated a North Korean Christmas here at home? Don’t you suppose someone’s New Year might yet bring reason to believe, to hope—if we really cared?

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